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  • Asylum seekers usually have no legal right to work – forcing them into the informal economy and the hands of the worst employers, says union body

The government’s Illegal Migration Bill is “a gift to dodgy employers” who are looking to exploit migrant workers in the underground economy, the TUC has today (Wednesday) warned.

The warning comes as the Bill continues to make its passage through parliament this week.

Increased exploitation in the labour market

Exploitation of migrant workers is already “rampant” – but this Bill “will make a bad situation much, much worse”, according to the TUC.

The TUC says the Bill will leave nearly 200,000 asylum seekers in limbo indefinitely by trapping them in temporary accommodation, while they are not allowed to have their asylum claims heard and the vast majority are unable to officially work.

This will “gift” rogue employers - including dodgy employers that operate in illicit and criminal activities – “an enormous pool” of migrant workers they will be able to exploit.

Many asylum seekers could then “fall prey to rogue employers” who offer them jobs and then exploit them “without fear of repercussion”.

Asylum seekers usually have no legal right to work and very limited recourse to labour market inspectorates, leaving them especially vulnerable to exploitation.

The 2022 Migration Advisory Committee annual report highlights that “irregular immigrants are frequently treated worse than British and regular migrant workers” including lack of holiday, sick and maternity pay; being paid less than national minimum wage; abuse and threats; and having their papers taken away.”

UK turning its back on victims of modern slavery

The TUC has accused the government of “turning its back on modern slavery victims”.

The Bill removes almost all protections for victims of modern slavery and trafficking who are targeted for deportation.

The union body says it is “staggering” that the government is developing a proposal that would mean modern slavery victims who are trafficked to the UK for exploitation, are first denied refuge and then returned to their country of origin – and almost certainly back to the criminal gangs who trafficked them in the first place.

Unfair on transport workers

The TUC has also warned about the Bill’s impact on transport workers.

The legislation could put transport workers in an invidious position of being forced to carry out the orders of immigration officers, according to the TUC.

Transport workers – such as pilots, captains, train drivers, lorry drivers – could be required by an immigration officer to restrain and detain asylum seekers.

The union body says this totally disregards the ethical views and legal obligations that individuals might have.

The TUC says workers should not be forced “do the government’s dirty work” and be complicit in its shameful actions. 

“Deplorable” Bill must be dropped

The TUC says the Migration Bill is “deplorable” and must be dropped – and is calling for all asylum seekers to be given the right to work to clamp down on exploitation by rogue employers.

The union body has accused the UK government of abandoning its obligation to help people fleeing war and persecution find refuge – adding that this would be in breach of international law under the UN Refugee Convention.

The union body has also labelled the legislation and the language used by ministers on the Bill as “divisive” - saying it will only serve to stoke tensions in British communities and “embolden the far right.” 

Paul Nowak recently wrote to the Secretary of State to set out his concerns about the Bill.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Exploitation of migrant workers is already rampant – but this Bill will make a bad situation much, much worse.

“From unpaid wages, to debt traps and forced labour, to being sacked without notice – this Bill will give rogue employers the green light to exploit migrant workers without fear of repercussion. This will create a race to the bottom for everyone.

"And it is a gift to dodgy, underground employers looking to take advantage of those who have no legal right to work and limited recourse to labour market inspectorates. 

“Make no mistake – the government is turning its back on people who need our help the most, including modern slavery victims.

“This legislation is deplorable and very likely unlawful.

“It’s time for the government to drop this nasty Bill and give all asylum seekers the right to work to clamp down on rogue employers who are looking to profit from exploitation.”


Editors note


- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.


TUC press office  
020 7467 1248 

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